Prostitution was an undeniable feature of the world of Georgian entertainment, the procurement of this particular type of pleasure being intimately woven into the fabric of urban life. Sexual pleasures were available for both sexes if they could pay. For those in London looking to indulge, they needed to look no further than one of the city’s many bagnois, taverns, bawdy or mollie houses. Indeed, the appearance of prostitutes at evening time was a familiar part of life, with scores of street walkers plying their trade up and down the Strand, around theatres and taverns.

Even supposedly ‘polite’ locations, such as London’s pleasure gardens, became notorious for the other pleasurable types of entertainment on offer. Writing in his diary American tourist William Byrd described his hedonistic evening at Spring Gardens, were he and a companion ‘picked up two women and carried them into the arbor and ate some cold veal and about 10 o’clock we carried them to the bagnio, where we bathed and lay with them all night and I rogered mine twice and slept pretty well, but neglected my prayers’.

From celebrated courtesans and ‘resting’ actresses, through to tavern-trawling molls and streetwalkers, prostitution catered for the less affluent and those with more refined tastes in equal measures. Sam Derrick’s Harris’s List or Covent Garden Ladies first published in 1757 points to the ubiquity of the sex trade as well as the diversity of women on offer. Derrick’s book was an instant sensation, offering provocative and titillating descriptions of the women available. For example in describing ‘Miss Kent, No. 9, Warren Street, Tottenham Court Road’, he euphemistically and encouragingly tells his readers that ‘Whenever she is offering incense at the shrine of Venus, her whole frame is agitated with pleasure, her eyes languish, her breasts heave, and her limbs quiver; while involuntary sighs and murmurs burst forth from her tender bosom’.

Carnal pleasure of this type was not restricted to the metropolis. York could boast its own opportunities to delight in the pleasures of the flesh. Brothels were known to have existed in Coney Street, Grape Lane once known as ‘Gropecunt Lane’ and Netherhorn Pot Lane amongst others.

Source: In Pursuit of Pleasure: Entertaining Georgian Polite Society (Fairfax House, 2016)